Immortals CEO on Clash Royale League, The Importance of Mobile
Immortals fields teams in some of the biggest esports around, including the Overwatch League (Los Angeles Valiant ) and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive , but the organization also has its fingers in the comparatively-small world of mobile esports.
Beyond a current Arena of Valor squad and a former Vainglory team, Immortals’ most visible mobile success to date is its Clash Royale League (CRL) team, which won the North American region this season and competed at last weekend’s World Finals in Tokyo. According to CEO Noah Whinston, mobile is a significant priority for the organization, and a market that he believes is “the future” for esports.
Following the World Finals, The Esports Observer spoke with Whinston about supporting Immortals’ Clash Royale team as fully as any other, where he sees areas to improve Immortals’ approach to mobile, and how accessibility could drive mobile to the top of the esports world.
Immortals went out in the first round at the World Finals, but still finished as the top North American team following a rough 0-2 start to the season. Beyond that competitive success, Whinston sees a lot of good signs from Supercell’s debut Clash Royale League season.
“We made the decision to treat our Clash Royale team the same as we treat any of our other teams. “
“Overall, CRL was a great experiment and experience for us,” he said. “Looking at the World Finals in particular, it demonstrated a lot of what Clash Royale and mobile esports can be. There was great production value, and really amazing viewership not pulled just from the traditional esports powerhouses, but from a lot of more developing esports scenes where mobile is more accessible than other platforms.”
Whinston added that his team needs to dig deeper into the viewership data that Supercell ultimately provides. “But I think overall,” he said, “we can take a lot of positive takeaways from that type of event in terms of what that means for the future of Clash Royale esports and mobile esports in general.”
Immortals already had the aforementioned experience with other mobile games, but the organization decided to funnel more resources into developing and sustaining its Clash Royale League squad than with previous mobile teams. Beyond recruiting experienced staff from the community, including coach Luis “Trainer Luis” Pena, Immortals integrated the mobile team into the organization just as it would for a PC gaming team.
“We made the decision to treat our Clash Royale team the same as we treat any of our other teams. We went through the recruitment process; they were on-campus with our Overwatch team and where our Counter-Strike team practices. They had access to the same level of staffing support and structure that any other team did,” said Whinston. “We take a lot of encouragement from the fact that our formula for non-mobile games is applicable for mobile gaming and the competitive mobile gaming ecosystem.”
“It was really important to us in this first season to test things out, and try and experience for ourselves first-hand. “
A Super Relationship
Even amidst that success, Whinston sees areas in which Immortals can improve its approach to mobile esports. He said that community engagement and marketing for mobile aren’t entirely analogous to they way they approach PC titles, given the different and still-emerging platforms on which the mobile community lives.
“We definitely think mobile gaming has a bit of ways to go in terms of creating definitive platforms upon which its community exists and engages,” he said. “It was really important to us in this first season to test things out, and try and experience for ourselves first-hand. There are platforms where certain things work and other platforms where different things work, and that’s OK. You can’t just carry forward ‘gospel truth’ from PC esports and expect it to hold true.”
Related Article: Team Queso CEO on Clash Royale League and Expanding Beyond Mobile
Like other organizations that The Esports Observer spoke with at the beginning of the season, Immortals has been very happy with its relationship with Supercell so far. The Clash Royale League was the Finnish game maker’s largest esports undertaking to date, and Whinston felt that they were open to ideas and willing to lean on the teams’ own experience when needed.
“We’ve been really, frankly, positively surprised,” he said. “The Supercell relationship started off great and continued to get better. We’re really big fans of how they are culturally. They’re so player-focused, and very community-focused and culture-focused in a way that is not necessarily a given among all game developers. We’ve been really pleasantly surprised as to the extent of cooperation, and the extent to which they’re really looking to teams to inform their strategy when it comes to esports.”
With Supercell’s Brawl Stars—an esports-primed, 3v3 arena-style action game—launching internationally next week, Whinston said that Immortals is also open to supporting further esports efforts from the developer. “It’s been a great cooperation, and I certainly am happy enough about it not just to think about what the path forward looks like for Clash Royale, but certainly happy enough about it to think about what that looks like for other Supercell games, as well—at least from my side.”
“For us, the reason mobile is so important is because we completely recognize that it’s the future.”
A Mobile Future?
The Clash Royale League and mobile esports as a whole are much smaller than games like Overwatch and CS:GO, but Whinston sees Immortals’ involvement as a play for the future. “Mobile is crucial for us,” he said. “We’ve been one of the organizations from more ‘traditional’ esports that is significantly more aggressive in the mobile space. Of course, you have your ‘endemic’ [mobile-focused] organizations like Team Queso, Tribe, and Nova that have been incredibly early in that space.”
“For us, the reason mobile is so important is because we completely recognize that it’s the future,” he continued. “I’m a big believer that the arc of history bends towards convenience and accessibility. When I look at all of the options for platforms to have esports on, I don’t think it should be a controversial statement that if you can do esports on a platform that costs $500 USD instead of $5K, that is a more accessible esport.”
The downside of accessibility in mobile games is often the trade-off for depth—that many touchscreen games aren’t complex enough to support thriving esports scenes and provide compelling gameplay for viewers to enjoy. Whinston sees that tide turning, however, and believes that mobile games are reaching enough of a level of strategic complexity to come close to what’s found on PC and consoles. He also pointed to the success of China’s King Pro League (for Honor of Kings, Tencent’s original Chinese version of Arena of Valor) as a sign of what’s possible around the world.
“I’m getting a lot of confidence in looking at the development of the mobile industry and saying, ‘We are on the right path,’” he said. “Maybe it won’t be a year, or two years, or three years, or maybe not even four years, but I think we’re on the path towards creating mobile esports as the next generation of just ‘esports.’”
“Plenty of partners are more focused on the here and now, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
The growth of mobile esports is also a boon to some of Immortals’ partners. Some sponsors are keeping their sights on what’s popular today, and are not currently as interested in what’s possible with mobile. “Plenty of partners are more focused on the here and now, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” he said. But another Immortals partner, Razer , continues to push for mobile acceptance via its sponsorships and hardware offerings. Whinston sees a lot of upside to that kind of relationships as the industry evolves in the years ahead.
“When you have partners like that that are cognizant to where esports is right now,” he said, “but that are also are thinking about: ‘Where are we taking it from here? How can we make sure that we’re constantly on the cutting edge, and that we’re not trying to be reactive to the audience, but we can proactively anticipate what they want?’ That is a really powerful thing to have, because it means that that kind of relationship can scale, not just as our core business gets bigger, but there’s this whole new facet to the business—a whole new facet to esports—as mobile esports continues to grow.”
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